Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Pre-announcement: early career fellowships in cultural and heritage institutions

Apply for funding to conduct research at cultural and heritage institutions.

You must:

  • be an early career researcher
  • have either a doctorate in a relevant subject or equivalent professional experience and skills
  • have the support of an eligible host, such as an independent research organisation in the culture and heritage sector
  • co-design your research project with your host organisation.

Fellowships should start between 1 October 2023 and 1 January 2024 and last between one and two years (longer if part-time).

This is a pre-announcement and the information may change. More information will be available on this page when the opportunity opens in late 2022. The closing date is to be confirmed.

Who can apply

To apply for a fellowship, you must:

  • have a demonstrable commitment to working within the cultural and heritage sector
  • be based, and be eligible to work, in the UK for the full period of the fellowship or eligible to apply for a visa to work in the UK
  • be of postdoctoral standing, which means you meet one of the criteria outlined under the ‘postdoctoral criteria’ heading below
  • identify a UK-based eligible independent research organisation (IRO) in the cultural and heritage sector willing to host your fellowship and support your career development
  • develop your fellowship research project proposal in partnership with this host organisation to optimise its value, and align your work with the organisation’s mission and research priorities.

The wider UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) eligibility criteria for funding applies. Check if you are eligible for funding.

Postdoctoral criteria

To be of postdoctoral standing, you must meet one of the following criteria:

  • are within eight years of the date of successfully completing your PhD viva or equivalent professional training at the deadline for the full application
  • have less than six years of research experience at post-doctoral level
  • have less than six years of working in a role or roles which included research as a significant component of the role.

These durations should exclude any period of career break, for example for family care, health reasons or reasons consequent upon the COVID-19 pandemic (such as home schooling or time on furlough). Where some or all of this period was a paid contract of employment to work part-time, the duration may be adjusted accordingly.

Contacting potential hosts

If you are interested in becoming a fellow, please do not approach a potential IRO host at this stage. Arrangements for contacting IROs and details of this funding opportunity will be announced when the funding opportunity goes live in late 2022.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Applications are welcomed from fellows in under-represented groups within the sector, for example ethnic minorities and disabled people.

Criteria for host organisations

To become a host organisation, you must:

  • be an IRO in the cultural and heritage sector
  • undertake research in an area suitable for AHRC funding
  • be eligible to hold UKRI funding, and included in the UKRI list of eligible IROs
  • provide a supportive research environment for the fellow, including:
    • line-management
    • best practice in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion
    • mentoring
    • training
    • access to facilities
    • support for the fellow’s career development.

Two or more IROs can co-host a fellow, provided that one of these organisations takes the lead for the fellow’s employment and for managing the fellowship award.

We strongly encourage host organisations to follow the principles of The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.

Partnering with UK galleries, libraries, archives and museums

We encourage partnership applications for skills training and research collaboration between eligible host organisations with IRO status and one or more of the wider UK galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) organisations. However, this is not mandatory.

It is also feasible for host organisations to partner with universities or international organisations.

Who cannot apply

The following cannot apply to be the lead host for a fellowship:

  • GLAM organisations based overseas
  • UK-based GLAM organisations without the IRO status, except as partners in an IRO-led bid
  • IROs outside the cultural and heritage sectors
  • universities in the UK or overseas.

The following cannot apply as fellows:

  • people who are already contracted to undertake research as a significant part of their current role and would like to undertake a fellowship at their current place of employment
  • applicants whose proposed projects do not focus on arts and humanities disciplines, methodologies and approaches within AHRC’s remit.

What we're looking for

The overall purpose of this funding opportunity is to enable early career postdoctoral (or equivalent) researchers to gain research and career experience in the galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) sector.

They will do this through working in a major cultural or heritage host organisation on a co-designed research project that will also benefit the host organisation.

The objectives of the scheme are to:

  • create new opportunities for early career postdoctoral researchers to build, deepen or broaden their experience of working in, and with, major cultural and heritage organisations
  • develop the fellows’ skills and future research career in areas of relevance to the work, collections and practices of cultural and heritage organisations
  • deliver high quality and impactful research and innovation projects
  • enhance the host organisation’s capacity to undertake research and innovation activities closely aligned with its priorities and strategies, and leading to practical benefits and outcomes for the host
  • address a need across the GLAM sector in respect of the lack of dedicated support for early stage of research careers
  • promote equality, diversity and inclusion principles
  • strengthen efforts to build and diversify research capabilities in the cultural heritage research and innovation ecosystem
  • further extend the GLAM sector’s engagement with, and contribution to, society
  • catalyse high quality and impactful research and innovation projects that contribute to AHRC’s objectives and vision on cultural assets and our other vision areas where appropriate.

This will be achieved through funding individual fellowships for early career researchers hosted by cultural and heritage independent research organisations (IRO), with a complementary programme of networking events and cohort career development activities for the fellows.

Your fellowship is expected to meet all the above objectives.

You will co-design your fellowship with your host IRO to ensure that it enhances your professional and research development and benefits the host organisation.

Research theme examples

Examples of broad research themes within which some of the highlighted research areas might fall, and that also align to AHRC’s vision and objectives, include:

  • diversifying histories and narratives, uncovering underexplored collections and opening up opportunities for more inclusive engagement with heritage
  • realising the cultural capital of under-studied collections and other cultural assets
  • contextualising collections and heritages and exploring how they can inform better understanding of ourselves
  • advancing how we conserve and curate our cultural infrastructure to serve the needs of future generations, including innovative applications of digital technologies, data, design thinking or creative methods
  • developing innovative ways for cultural assets to:
    • provide support for diverse, inclusive, healthy, sustainable and prosperous places and communities
    • foster constructive civil discourse
    • help address wider societal challenges.

AHRC will be inviting eligible host organisations in the cultural and heritage sector to highlight specific areas of interest in hosting the fellowships.

Further details of the priority areas identified by these host organisations will be provided when the full funding opportunity details are published.

Interdisciplinary fellowship proposals in areas such as digital humanities and heritage science, as well as practice-based ones, will be welcomed, but all proposals must have significant arts and humanities research content within AHRC’s remit.

Project duration and funding

Your fellowship can be full-time, part-time or hybrid (a combination of the two). It can last for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years (longer if part-time).

We expect fellowships to start between 1 October 2023 and 1 January 2024 unless exceptional circumstances apply, for example on equality, diversity and inclusion grounds.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £250,000. AHRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost with the host institution contributing the remaining 20%. The host organisation will prepare the budget on your behalf.

The host independent research organisation will administer the fellowship award and employ you for the period of the fellowship.

You will be listed as the applicant and the principal investigator of your fellowship grant.

How to apply

Guidance on how to apply will be provided when the full funding opportunity is published.

The full funding opportunity will also provide further information on host organisations’ areas of interest and how to contact host organisations.

We anticipate that there will be an initial ‘expression of interest’ stage to help host organisations identify the most promising fellowship proposals. After the expression of interest stage, the hosts will work with the candidates to co-design and support the development of a full fellowship application to AHRC.

We anticipate that each individual host organisation will only be able to support a small number of applications to the full proposal stage.

Individual applicants and their proposed hosts will then use the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system to submit full fellowship applications to AHRC for consideration through peer review.

If your application is successful, the host independent research organisation will administer the award and employ and host you as the fellow for the period of the award.

Contact details

Ask a question about this funding opportunity


Include ‘Early career fellowships in IRO cultural organisations’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond to queries as soon as possible.

Get help finding collaborators

To find candidates for fellowships, organisations that are considering hosting fellows will be invited to outline their areas of interest to AHRC. This will enable potential hosts to announce:

  • particular areas of research interest, opportunities or priorities for this funding opportunity and any associated skills or capabilities of the fellows that would be helpful to the host organisation in these areas
  • contact points and processes that candidates interested in the fellowships should follow.

The information provided by potential host organisations through this route will be published alongside the full funding opportunity in late 2022.

We will gather areas of interest from potential eligible host organisations only. AHRC is not able to consider expressions of interest or ideas for research topics from individuals interested in becoming a fellow at this stage in the process.

Additional info

This is a pilot funding opportunity. It builds on the success and experience of AHRC initiatives at doctoral level that have enabled students to work with cultural and heritage organisations.

These initiatives include the Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships scheme. However, applicants do not need to have held a previous AHRC collaborative doctoral award.

This funding opportunity will include cohort events for fellows, designed to enable networking and develop skills. Details will be provided to successful applicants.

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
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